Killing Eve’s Tragic Love Story
Contains spoilers for Killing Eve Season 4 finale
Killing Eve’s finale was a betrayal of what made the series so remarkable in the first place. Television producer Sally Woodward-Gentle, who optioned Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle in 2014, said: “The notion of a female assassin was not unique,” but Jennings’ take was “fresh, intelligent, and tonally much bolder than others. It wasn’t exploitative. We really enjoyed the character of Villanelle and the inventiveness of her kills, but we were particularly engaged with the mutual obsession between the women.”
For the past four years, there has been nothing more fascinating on television than watching Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), an intelligence agency analyst, pursue Villanelle (Jodie Comer), a psychopathic Russian assassin, as the two develop an unhealthy and intoxicating infatuation with one another. As Olive Pometsey said in GQ in 2020, Eve and Villanelle’s “chemistry and sexual tension is through the roof, but they still haven’t worked out how to properly express what they’re feeling.” If one thing is for sure, Eve and Villanelle both find the attention thrilling, even when it feels dangerous — in fact, especially when it feels dangerous, though their feelings for each other have certainly varied over the course of the series. Watching the pair navigate this unconventional dynamic is exactly why Killing Eve has been so successful.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who adapted Killing Eve for television, was showrunner, head writer, and executive producer for the first season, though she remained an executive producer for the entire series. In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2018, she said, “I knew that the first moment [Eve and Villanelle] saw each other… I labelled that moment ‘love at first sight.’” That same year, Waller-Bridge also told Variety that “every moment in this show exists so that these two women can end up alone in a room together.” She continued, “Really it would have been a betrayal to the audience if they didn’t come together in the end.” While Waller-Bridge was referring to the “tricky second date” scene she wrote in season one, this really sums up the entire series. Killing Eve is a love story and all anyone wanted to see was these two women, with their differing personalities, sizzle with sexual tension as they figured out how to behave in front of each other. Those scenes were exhilarating because anything could happen and many of them were certainly full of surprises that kept us on the edge of our seats!
A JOURNEY OF SELF-DISCOVERY
In February 2022, Oh told Parade that Killing Eve is “really a portrait of two women trying to be whole. And along the way they discover that trying to be whole has something to do with each other.” Villanelle shakes up Eve’s whole world and sets her on a path of introspection and self-discovery as soon as they meet. Eve had to be broken in order to confront her true desires, including her bisexuality, and her darker tendencies. As I wrote in 2020, Eve has survived so much loss and pain that “by the time we reach season three, she’s at her messiest — trying to rebuild her life after Villanelle shot her and left her for dead in Rome.” Since losing friends, colleagues, and being shot by Villanelle, Eve is “more than acquainted with death and she is closer than ever to becoming Dark Eve.”
For Villanelle, season three saw her crumble in a complete flip in power dynamic between her and Eve. In episode five, she visited her family in Russia and the trip revealed more about Villanelle’s troubled upbringing, particularly the psychological abuse from her mother, Tatiana (Evgenia Dodina). While there, Villanelle wanted to reconnect and experience the love and care from her mother that she didn’t receive as a child, but Tatiana scolds her for acting like a child and asks her to leave. “You will not bring your darkness into this house,” she says, before telling Villanelle that she was bad from the beginning, which is why she took her to an orphanage. Villanelle decides to kill her mother, who won’t admit what she is, as Villanelle is her mother’s daughter after all. In episode seven, Hélène (Camille Cottin), assassin recruiter for the Twelve, delivers her chaos speech in which she calls Villanelle a “beautiful monster.”
In the season three finale, when Eve and Villanelle meet on the bridge, Villanelle says she is done being an assassin. Eve wonders what happened to them, saying she used to be a normal person with a life, a husband, and a house. Villanelle asks if she still wants that, but Eve admits that she only sees Villanelle’s face when she thinks about her future. Villanelle asks if she’s ruined Eve’s life, if she’s a monster. Eve tells her she is many things and everyone has a monster inside them, but most people are better at hiding it. Villanelle thinks her monster encourages Eve’s and Eve thinks that Villanelle wants that to happen. Eve asks her to help make it stop and Villanelle says that’s easy. She makes Eve turn around so they are standing back to back. She tells Eve to walk and never look back. After a while, they begin walking away from each other, but they both can’t resist turning around for one last look, though their timing doesn’t sync up.
Still fixated on believing she was born evil and has ruined Eve’s life, Villanelle spends a big chunk of season four at a church trying to prove that she has the capacity for good. In episode four, when Villanelle repeats that she was evil from birth, Carolyn (Fiona Shaw) argues instead that she was “gifted” from birth. She says: “You know, humans are like a mezze board. The best of them have a little bit of everything. And if you think that your… flair for murder, you know, speaks to your kind of, lack of humanity, wrong. Killing is primal. It’s what nature intended. And who are we to quibble with nature? Why waste your time being good, when you could just be good at what you’re good at?” This is the best speech to justify murder I’ve ever heard and is something Villanelle needed to hear so that she could accept herself.
Eve and Villanelle have always been out of sync. Eve stabbed Villanelle at the end of season one, Villanelle shot Eve at the end of season two, and at the end season three, they parted ways after spending most of the season apart anyway. Season four continues the trend of keeping them mostly apart as Eve has fun with being the one with all the power for a change. Though her animosity after the bridge is never explained, it could be due to feeling rejected. It’s not until the final episode of Killing Eve that Eve goes back to Villanelle after pushing her away for most of season 4 and says, “I need you, Villanelle. I came all this way to be with you.” This is the moment when they were finally able to sync up their feelings and accept that what they truly want is each other. After their journeys of self-discovery, they realised that they make each other whole.
In the final episode, Killing Eve delivers one of the most beautiful, emotional, and passionate kisses I’ve ever seen in my entire life, full of urgency and longing. We got to see Eve and Villanelle having fun together, as a couple, and actually seeming happy. The way Eve and Villanelle care for each other runs so deep that it’s hard to describe. It’s like their attraction and love for one another existed even before they did. It was fated, destined, because it was always them. Killing Eve gave us the scenes we’ve been dying to see since season one, episode one. This could’ve been the happy ending both we and they deserved, but the very final moments of the series saw them part ways permanently when Villanelle is killed and Eve bursts out of the water, screaming out in pure agony.
BURYING ALL THE GAYS
For Vulture in 2018, film and television critic Matt Zoller Seitz wrote that Killing Eve is “such a brazenly entertaining series that you don’t immediately realise how groundbreaking it is. […] There’s the fact that Killing Eve is built around two women, an immediately distinguishable difference in a genre, the cat-and-mouse thriller, where both the main investigator and the main baddie tend to be men.” There’s bound to be casualties in a series of this kind, especially as Villanelle seems to like killing off her ex-girlfriends for closure, but for everything Killing Eve does to redefine the tropes of its genre, the series killed or left for dead every one of its lesbian characters, which is going to leave a bad taste of many, especially its lesbian viewers.
It’s hard to not bring up Clexa from The 100, the ship name for Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) and Clarke (Eliza Taylor), a prominent lesbian couple in the series. The sudden death of Lexa shocked and upset fans everywhere. I hadn’t watched the series back then, but I sure as hell remember the outcry when that episode aired. It was brutal. It wasn’t just about the Bury Your Gays trope, it was also about how she died — from a stray bullet not long after she and Clarke finally consummated their slow-burn relationship. The decision to kill Lexa was because Debnam-Carey had commitments on another series. Villanelle was also killed not long after she and Eve consummated their relationship (off-screen), although the writers tried to make her death meaningful, which I’ll explain soon.
There will always be a debate over the death of lesbian characters, including questions such as, “are lesbian characters never allowed to die?” and “what if it makes sense for the story?” and “this wouldn’t be a problem if they were straight.” These are valid questions, but it’s all about the circumstances. While killing off Eve or Villanelle wouldn’t have pleased everyone, it could’ve been handled much better. For example, we could’ve had more scenes of them together throughout the season, instead of having them all play out in the last episode like a half-hour rom-com right before such a sudden tragic ending. It feels malicious. Plus, season four head writer Laura Neal telling BuzzFeed they had to weigh up, across the season, how much time we were spending with Eve and Villanelle on screen together feels like a kick in the teeth. She added, “they’re the moments as a viewer that I live for. But also, it’s such a balance because you have to earn those moments.” I think we did earn them.
CAN EVE AND VILLANELLE BE DOMESTICATED?
When speaking to BuzzFeed, Neal said: “I think when we came to discuss episode 8, and we knew this was going to be the final episode, and we knew this was the end of this relationship, it was almost like I just wanted to have my fill of Eve and Villanelle scenes. This was the last time we could ever see these characters interact, and we wanted to make sure that it felt joyful and playful as well. It wasn’t just the tragedy of the ending. We had some time to enjoy the two of them together and have fun with them before that happened.” Neal sounds so passionate about this that it makes me wonder why they saved all of those scenes for the final episode and didn’t include more of them throughout the season instead of wasting time doing, for example, and entire flashback episode on a character who is getting her own spin-off, and bringing in a new assassin who served no real purpose other than to give Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) something to do and deliver his death.
Neal’s comments make me think about when Waller-Bridge told the Guardian that she writes from the point of view of what she’d like to watch. “I’m always satisfying my own appetite. So I guess that means transgressive women, friendships, pain. I love pain.” More than anything, she says, as a writer she wants to show women indulging their appetites and venting their grievances. While Waller-Bridge oversaw season four as an executive producer, the idea of her having written season four instead makes me wonder how many of those scenes in the finale she might’ve extended to previous episodes, even if she still would’ve ended the series in tragedy.
On the idea of giving Eve and Villanelle a happy domestic ending, they decided it “just wouldn’t last very long.” Neal told BuzzFeed, “In reality, you’re there with a psychopath and somebody who’s dipped her toes in that world during the last four seasons. It just felt like this was the kind of relationship that was always gonna burn brightly and then combust, rather than one that could settle into something more domestic.” She added that she would rather see them go out in a “blaze of glory” than do anything “normal people would do.” I don’t think there’s many people who believe that Eve and Villanelle are suited to domesticity considering their backgrounds, personalities, and histories. I also don’t think there’s many who believe that Eve and Villanelle’s relationship would last forever. But the series actually highlighted Eve and Villanelle being unapologetically themselves during domestic moments, where they were anything but “normal,” and this is exactly how we want them depicted, because we love them and their relationship for being abnormal. The series even showed them against a normal, heterosexual couple, who don’t murder people in their spare time, and it was the perfect juxtaposition. The finale brought out their funny, interesting, and silly distinct personalities, while making some meaningful throwbacks to shots from earlier seasons, and these are the scenes we want to see — ones that hint to them being happy together for longer than they were.
Remember when Eve delivered her infamous “I think about you all the time” monologue at the end of season one, where she wanted to “know everything” about Villanelle? We were robbed of more scenes like this. Of scenes where Eve attempts to actually find out the answers to her long-held questions. What shampoo does Villanelle use? What happened in her family? What does she eat before work? What does she have for breakfast? There’s no way she would’ve held back or no longer have been interested in these questions. We want to see Eve and Villanelle deepen their relationship, attempt to finally communicate their feelings towards one another, and learn some of those smaller details.
HOW KILLING EVE KILLED EVE (AND ITS FANS)
As Killing Eve is a tale of mutual obsession filled with lust, murder, and espionage, Villanelle dying isn’t exactly surprising or necessarily the “wrong” way to end the series — but as a piece of media progresses and connects with its audience, things can change. In response to Angelica Jade’s Vulture article about Killing Eve, film writer Marya E. Gates brought up how “the ending of Grosse Pointe Blank was shot many times before they got it right, but the director was certain that Cusack’s [character] had to live even though he’s a psychopath because that’s what the audience would want.” On Killing Eve, she added, “It seems these showrunners just did absolutely not think about the audience when crafting the ending of this show, which is a huge mistake.”
While talking to ELLE about the series finale, what Comer says makes sense for Villanelle. “It was inevitable,” she begins. “She’s like a cat with nine lives. What I loved about the moment was that it was a really selfless act that she did that caused [her death]. It felt right that in that moment she protected Eve. There was something about that shielding, I think, that signified how much she had really changed. She was trying desperately to change at the beginning and I don’t think she ever realised how much she had, which is so sad. That moment really shows how Eve changed her life.” This is certainly the best way to look at Villanelle’s death, especially as both she and Eve were ordered to die. Plus, there is so much focus on how Villanelle changed Eve’s life, that we often forget to credit how much Eve changed Villanelle’s. This was really captured during the scene that intercuts Eve on the top deck dancing and full of life while Villanelle is below killing the Twelve. Oh told ELLE, “We see the essence of the characters. And we hold on Villanelle watching Eve dancing and it’s emotional for her. I believe this is a moment of understanding for [Villanelle].” This is a truly beautiful moment that tells us so much about their characters without saying a single word.
Oh revealed to ELLE that Eve was going to be the one to die, but through the pandemic they “changed tracks.” Neal explained that “the reason we ended up killing Villanelle was because we wanted to give Eve new life. For Eve, the moment where she burst out of the water was always something we had right from the very early iterations of endings. We were really into Villanelle dying to kind of save Eve.” Neal goes on to talk about how Villanelle’s death isn’t really a death, but more of a “transcendence” and “elevation of Villanelle to another realm.” Speaking to BuzzFeed, Neal described Eve’s emergence from the water as a “rebirth,” explaining that she chooses life while dancing, which is part of the rebirth, because “it felt like that rebirth had to happen slightly before the moment where she comes out of the water.”
On what viewers will make of the ending, Neal told ELLE that she hopes that “when ‘The End’ comes up, [viewers] think that Eve is going to go on and have this amazing life. She’s escaped. Carolyn thinks she’s dead. She can have the life that she chooses to live now. In my head, she’s going to take everything Villanelle has given her into this new version of her life. And Villanelle will live on in Eve.”
Killing Eve was always about killing the old Eve and allowing her to be reborn through Villanelle, but by season four, Eve has gone through so much loss, heartbreak, and trauma that Villanelle is all she has left, and to lose her too feels cruel. While it’s true that Eve will be free of everything that has plagued her life for the last four seasons, including Villanelle herself, I cannot see what life there is left for Eve to choose if Villanelle isn’t in it. It’s hard to think that she would be able to walk away from what she knows and everything she has been through. Eve has been rebirthed so many times throughout Killing Eve that the final shots of her bursting out of the water and howling in pain, anger, and grief feel like a death for her character who has already withstood a lifetime of pain. Villanelle’s death doesn’t feel like it brings new life to Eve, it feels like a punishment and Eve has already been punished enough. Is this excruciating, final punishment worth her freedom?
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